By Julia Rawlins-Bentham
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Government has set aside an additional $2 million in price support for livestock farmers to combat rising feed prices, and is giving the assurance that the money will be paid; meanwhile, Barbados, like the rest of the region, has been placed in a state of readiness, following the confirmation of the African Swine Fever in the Dominican Republic last month. And, while the disease is not present in the island nor poses a threat to public health or animals other than pigs, the government has activated its machinery to prevent its entry and or to mitigate its impact.
$2 million in support for farmers
In addition, it has also negotiated with the main feed manufacturer, Pinnacle Feeds, for an 11 percent rise, as opposed to the previously indicated 26 and 19 percent increase, respectively.
Minister of agriculture and food security, Indar Weir, said that the 11 percent rise could translate to feed prices increasing by three, five and eight per cent, or “go past 11 per ent” in some instances.
He was at the time responding to questions from the media during a virtual press briefing to update the country on government’s state of readiness against the African Swine Fever, which has been detected in the Dominican Republic.
Weir explained that following meetings with stakeholders and the new investors in the company, government was able to negotiate the proposed increase from 26 percent down to 19 percent. That has since been further reduced to 11 percent.
But, he stressed, “the reality of it is that Pinnacle is a private entity that is also carrying increased costs of inputs…. Pinnacle is a private entity that is free to increase its prices.
“We, as a government…have a responsibility to the livestock sub-sector, and therefore, anything we do is in support of the livestock farmers of Barbados ….”
He stressed that Cabinet determined that there was a need to support the island’s livestock farmers, resulting in Government putting a $2 million price support in place in May to cover a three-month period.
That support, he explained, assisted farmers in purchasing feed for their animals at a reduced price.
The minister added that government had further agreed to continue supporting the livestock farmers, for a further three months, to assist them in defraying increased costs in the feed.
But, he noted, government was reviewing its options to determine more sustainable approaches towards protecting the livestock sector.
“We recognise the world is trending upward and everything is going upwards. And I must say to you that we all know that when it comes to increase in prices … you will find as flexible as it is with prices going up, it is always tricky to get them come back down. Being cognisant of that, we are looking at our options that we can put in place to be able to assist the livestock sub-sector, rather than a reliance on price support,” Weir said.
However, he stated that although Government had undertaken to provide price support to the sector in May, there was a payment mechanism that had to be followed.
“All the feed that is sold by Pinnacle [Feeds] has to be reported. All that information has to be captured and reported to the ministry. The ministry then has to do an assessment…[and] that assessment…is then shared with the ministry of finance, and then through the various forms that are issued by the permanent secretary. We then assess funding in order to be able to pay the supplier,” he explained.
However, Weir gave the assurance that “government will pay”, as he underscored the importance of having price support mechanisms in place to support the farmers.
“We have to follow the payment mechanism because we can’t just up and take money and pay without first putting the system in place that guarantees that we are paying for the feed that was sold,” he stated.
Barbados in a state of readiness for African Swine Fever
Plans to ensure that the country is in a state of readiness were approved by Cabinet, following an emergency meeting on Monday, and confirmed by minister of agriculture and food security, Indar Weir, during a virtual press briefing Friday, from Ilaro Court.
He was supported by senior veterinary officer in the ministry, Dr Mark Trotman; chief agricultural officer in the ministry, Keely Holder, and acting chief economist, Robert Saul.
Minister Weir outlined that the preparedness measures for Barbados include the formation of a technical committee on emergency agricultural diseases, which was established within the ministry.
The technical committee will comprise officials from the ministry of health and wellness; the ministry of public works and water resources; the office of the attorney general; the ministry of tourism and international transport; the ministry of environment and national beautification; the ministry of home affairs, information, and public affairs, and representatives from the Royal Barbados Police force.
“That committee is going to be working all around the clock to make sure that we get all of this work in, and then we will continue our surveillance presence at the airport where we will have people on standby, just in case we have to do a drill down on passengers when they arrive and are carrying items that they should not be carrying, or equally have been on a farm prior to arriving in Barbados seven days out,” Weir said.
He explained that the standing committee would address matters relating to laboratory equipment to ensure that there was enough equipment to carry out the tests. In addition, the human resource capacity at the veterinary services department would be increased to assist with the execution of field and laboratory work.
Other preventative and mitigation measures outlined by the Minister include increasing biosecurity measures and implementing changes to Barbados’ immigration cards to allow people to indicate whether or not they were on a farm seven days before arrival in the country.
The agriculture minister stated that while there was some disruption to the island’s economic sectors, particularly tourism, as a result of COVID-19, the agricultural sector remained stable and showed signs of growth.
But, he warned, nothing was guaranteed and nothing is forever, and the sector also faced pressure from various events, such as the effects of climate change, droughts, floods and the rising costs of feed and water.
He cautioned that an outbreak of African Swine Fever on the island could be severe, as it could wipe out the entire pork industry, particularly among those involved in backyard farming, and place significant pressure on government.
Minister Weir stressed that farmers need to ensure that they carried out appropriate farming practices, and noted that a public education programme was already underway through the ministry of home affairs, information and public affairs.
“We are certainly increasing our information at the airport, which is the main port of entry, as well as the seaport, so you will see signs when you enter the airport, or the seaport, giving information about the African Swine Fever and what you should or should not do,” he said.